Soul Asylum may have been the little Minneapolis band that could, the snotty underdogs who ended up topping the charts while their hipper peers did not, but in true underdog fashion, success didn't seem to suit them. Sure, 1992's Grave Dancer's Union was a massive hit, but the follow-up, 1995's Let Your Dim Light Shine, was perceived as a flop even though it went platinum as the band's snarky energy began to fade, and both 1998's Candy from a Stranger and the 2006 "comeback" The Silver Lining barely made a ripple among anyone but their most committed fans, both sounding half-hearted as Dave Pirner's songwriting turned unexpectedly silly. In 2012, Soul Asylum are pretty much off everyone's radar and they're back to recording for a small indie label, so it makes a certain sense that Delayed Reaction is their best album in ages. Anyone hoping this will recall the band's creative zenith of Hang Time or Grave Dancer's Union may be a bit let down, but the band has some semblance of their scrappy energy back, and songs like "Gravity," "The Streets," "Let's All Kill Each Other," and "Take Manhattan" sound energetic, focused, and fun, full of the qualities that made Soul Asylum good, rowdy fun before they hit the charts and had to figure out what to do next. The band isn't quite as good when they slow things down and try to convince us of their range, but "Cruel Intentions" is a surprisingly successful bit of cocktail lounge blues, "Into the Light" is solid pop songcraft, and strip the pretentious string charts from "I Should've Stayed in Bed" and you'd have a better-than-average moody grunge ballad. And while Dave Pirner's lyrics are still goofier than they were in his heyday, he sounds noticeably more grounded on The Silver Lining, and the band -- Pirner and Dan Murphy on guitars, Tommy Stinson on bass, and Michael Bland on drums -- rocks with solid assurance and a genuine sense of fun. Calling Delayed Reaction the best Soul Asylum album since Let Your Dim Light Shine might sound like damning with faint praise, given how spotty much of their post-Grave Dancer's Union catalog has been, but the truth is, this band hasn't sounded this enjoyable since the mid-'90s, and if it isn't a full-scale return to form, it shows they aren't a spent force, which is certainly how they sounded on The Silver Lining.
© Mark Deming /TiVo